The Journey to Wrangell St. Elias National Park

Most people don’t know much about North America’s largest national park. Wrangell St. Elias. Encompassing 20,000 square miles, it’s larger than some states and includes nine of the sixteen highest peaks in the United States. It has the largest concentration of mountains over 14,000 feet, and there are only two roads that allow access to the park. We did them both!

After leaving our friends Russ and Susan, who headed north to Fairbanks, we headed south towards Wrangell St. Elias. Our first peek was via the Nebesna Road. The road leads to an abandoned mine, but the road was closed for flooding after about 20 miles. We opted to use one of the many roadside turnouts as a campsite and enjoyed the view of the Wrangell Mountains across the valley. 

While on Nebesna Road we tackled the Caribou Crossing trail but found the creek crossing was still covered in ice. Still, our very remote three mile hike gave us a good look at the landscape. 

Even though we’ve encountered ice and snow so far, it is beginning to look like spring up here. And to prove it, Steve has been capturing the flowers as they unfold before us. 

From the Nebesna Road we traveled south towards the other park entrance. Because we had some time to kill before our next reservation, we boondocked a few nights along the way in the Copper River Valley. Known for the famous Copper River salmon, the area is filled with fast running creeks, streams, and rivers, and the water levels have been high due to late snows and now warm days.

We stayed one night at the Tonzina River Wayside, a paved parking area along the Tonzina River. Unlike most other places we’ve travelled, in Alaska you can pull over and spend the night anywhere along the way, as long as there’s not a sign that says, “no overnight stays.” This spot gave us great access to our first look at the Alaska Pipeline. We’ll surely see more of this as the summer rolls along.

The next night we headed to Squirrel Creek State Park and camped at a great site with a view of a lake and a great path to the confluence of the creek and the Tonsina River. Here’s where we spent my birthday, and it was glorious! I spent most of the day in the screen room, enjoying the views, reading a good book, and just relaxing.

Steve even got in some fishing with his new waders at this stop. He didn’t catch anything but at least he knows they don’t leak!

That evening we headed to the nearby Tonsina River Lodge and enjoyed our first exposure to Russian food. It was fabulous!

A few nights hanging out in the Kenny Lake area, we were able to get in a great hike near Liberty Falls that gave us awesome views of the Copper River and surrounding mountains. 

Finally we began the epic journey down the McCarthy Road, the second road into Wrangell St. Elias National Park. The road was created on the old railroad bed that linked the Kennecott Copper mine to the coast at Cordova. It’s a 60 miles journey down a rough, unpaved, and remote road that was originally developed in the early 1900s. Signs along the way warned us to be careful!

Along the way we stopped to check out the old trestle bridges and one lane creek crossings. We even had a bear cross in front of us. Just getting to McCarthy is an adventure!

Once we arrived at Currant Ridge Cabins, our home for the next three nights, we ventured into “town.” McCarthy was the social center of the area in the early 1900s when hundreds of miners worked at the nearby Kennecott mine.

If it sounds familiar, it might be because the town is featured in the Discover Channel series, “Edge of Alaska.” Ripe with intrigue, conflict, and a saucy history, this old town is filled with characters, rugged individualists, and now, some tourists. 

To get to McCarthy you park on one side of a roaring river and take the footbridge to the other side. From there you can take a shuttle or walk the half mile into “town.” Only locals have vehicles on the town side of the river and they access town via a bridge they pay to use. 

Four and a half miles up the old road from McCarthy sits Kennecott, the old mining town and the site of the National Park Visitor Center. Both towns sit at the toe of the Kennecott and Root Glaciers, and doing a glacier hike is a must when visiting this area of the park. Because we have SO MANY PHOTOS, we’ll do a separate blog post on the glacier hike and on the other high-flying adventure we had while in this area. Here’s a preview:

Our time in McCarthy was complete after we spent an evening in town with the locals. We had a wonderful dinner at the Salmon and Bear featuring Copper River Salmon. From there we sat at the bar in the saloon and chatted with locals who have lived in this remote paradise for decades. Boy, do they have stories to tell!

And, yes, there’s way more to share about this part of our Alaska adventure. Stay tuned for more posts coming soon!

The Alaska Highway – Part Two

After nearly a month on the road, we’ve made it from Arizona to Alaska via the famed Alaska Highway. Our previous post highlighted the first half of our journey, and in this post, we’ll finish the story.

When we last checked in we were in Liard Hot Springs, relaxed and rejuvenated from our soaks. Next we headed west and north to Watson Lake and the famous signpost forest. It was only one night but we packed in as much as we could.

In 1942, during the construction of the Alaska Highway, a homesick soldier added his hometown to the army signpost he was building. People from all over the world have followed the time-honored tradition of adding signs to the “forest” on a daily basis ever since. We even found some from Prescott!

With Russ’s help we posted our sign, which once decorated the front of our RV. Russ and Susan also added their own sign. We’ll give five dollars to anyone who can find our sign among the over 80,000 that now hang in Watson Lake.

The scenery along the highway did not let us down. Even with construction delays, we were kept busy marveling at the snow-capped peaks and vast expanses.

We’ve also been keeping a list of the wildlife we’ve seen and it grows every day. From moose to bears to caribou, the Alaska Highway delivers.

We made a stop in the Yukon Territory’s capital of Whitehorse. In our short time there we explored Miles Canyon and the surrounding trails. Before the Yukon river was dammed, this canyon was a treacherous stretch that prospectors had to brave during their journey to the gold fields in Dawson City.

Today it’s a popular area for hiking, mountain biking, and wintertime cross country skiing. Bob enjoyed his hike, especially when he got to cross the suspension bridge with Steve.

We also poked around downtown Whitehorse, enjoyed lunch at the Klondike Salmon and Rib and found the local brewery. At Yukon Brewing the beer is worth freezin’ for.

Our favorite stop of all along the Alaska Highway was our overnight at Congdon Creek Yukon Government Campground. Set right outside the small town of Destruction Bay, this small campground on Kluane Lake was perfect in every way!

The sunshine and warmer weather allowed us to sit outside all afternoon, enjoy the views, the campfire, and the fresh air. It didn’t hurt that we arrived early enough to snag a waterfront site, which added to our enjoyment.

After braving some pretty rough roads from Destruction Bay to the US border, we could finally say we’d made it to Alaska. We stopped for the obligatory photo at the “Welcome to Alaska” sign and proceeded to Tok, our final stop on this part of the journey.

In Tok we explored a bit, caught up on laundry, cleaned the truck, and bid adieu to our wonderful traveling companions.

Russ and Susan are headed north to Fairbanks while we’re heading south, so our time together has come to a close. It was so fun and reassuring to have travel partners, and these guys are so easy to travel with. We celebrated our accomplishment with a wonderful pizza dinner prepared by Susan. We’re sure gonna miss these guys!

Celebrating a successful journey so far

The Alaska Highway – Part One

Driving the Alaska Highway from its start in Dawson Creek, British Columbia to its termination in Alaska is a bucket list item for many RVers. We’ve had plans to make this epic journey since 2019 when we bought our first camper but the COVID pandemic closed the Canadian border for the last two years. Finally, 2022 was our year! In spite of crazy high diesel prices, we’re doing this!

From Jasper we headed north, stopped in Grande Prairie for provisions (Costco!) and finally made our way to the official start of the highway at Mile 0 in Dawson Creek. The first stop is the big sign that marks to beginning of the journey and a photo stop is required!

We also enjoyed poking around the adjacent museum to learn more about the history of the road.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, it was clear that a military supply road between the lower 48 and Alaska was necessary to defend the United States against the Japanese. The 1,523 mile highway took eight months and 12 days to build at a cost of $140 million. In that short time 11,000 American troops and 16,000 civilian workers built 133 major bridges, 8,000 culverts with over 7,000 pieces of machinery. The speed at which the road was built, considering the rough terrain, is one of our country’s greatest achievements. 

We took our time along the way, traveling less than 200 miles in a day. Some days we stopped at full hook up campgrounds and other days we stopped at no-frills, yet beautiful provincial park campgrounds. At Buckinghorse River Wayside Provincial Park we camped on the banks of the river, so close that the guys could fish right out our back door. They didn’t catch anything but they enjoyed the challenge.

We are a bit early in the season for traveling the ALCAN. We’ve hit all kinds of weather along the way and the rivers and lakes are still frozen in many places. While that put a damper on the fishing and exploring, it just added to the beauty of the area. We’re also at the peak of road repair season.

In Fort Nelson we just happened to cross paths with our friends Christine and Paul who we met at the Tampa RV show earlier this year. They were on their way to visit their daughter in Valdez and we happened to be staying in the same RV park.

We had a fun night and were grateful for our Clam screen room as the mosquitos have begun to make their 2022 appearance.

Tetsa River Lodge has been a popular stop on the ALCAN since the 1940s and we weren’t going to pass up their cinnamon buns. This is a must-do stop on the Alaska Highway.

Driving this remote highway means we’ve had many opportunities to see wildlife. In fact, in one day, from Fort Nelson to Muncho Lake we saw a bear, a bald eagle, at least a half dozen caribou, deer, and a beaver.

Other days we’ve seen more bison than we can count. We didn’t get photos of everything but we’ll keep trying!

Our stop at Muncho Lake was much anticipated. We were a bit disappointed when we arrived to find the turquoise blue lake was still frozen over and the nearby trails were snowed in. We enjoyed one night at the Northern Rockies Lodge in a campsite that overlooked the lake and then moved on.

It worked out, however, as we headed to our next stop, Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park, and spent two days luxuriating in the springs, walking the boardwalk, looking for moose, and just chilling out. What an incredible place, high in the Northern Canadian Rockies.

Our journey along the Alaska Highway continues and we’ll post more when we finish the trek and get back into cell service. Most of our stops along this route have been completely off the grid so we’re a little slow to post. There’s more to come!